What are the Five Yamas of Ashtanga Yoga of Patanjali

What is the meaning of the Yama?

All eight limbs of Yoga hold importance like all the limbs in our body. Yama and Niyama are the first two of the eight limbs (angas), per the Ashtanga Yoga by yogrishi Patanjali. Assuming Ashtanga Yoga is a house, then Yama and Niyama are the foundation of Yoga. If the foundations aren’t strong, the whole house will fall, i.e., a yogi cannot achieve the ultimate state unless the foundation is not strengthened. We could say the Asana and Pranayama are pillars; Pratyahara is the roof that stands on the two pillars. Finally, at the pinnacle, Dharana Dhyana and Samadhi lead or unite one with the almighty.

What are the Five Yamas of Ashtanga Yoga of Patanjali
Limbs of yoga


Yama and Niyama in Patanjali Yoga sutra

Patanjali Yoga sutra is unique; the names given to every sutra are very conceptual and self-explanatory. Sutras have got a characteristic. A total of 16 Sutras are allotted to Yama and Niyama; (asana has 4, pranayama has 3-4). That shows the importance of Yama and Niyama, yet these two are most forgotten and least practised. One must remember that all of the Angas should be followed and practised if one wishes to be a true yogi, like a student in school who passes classes 1st to 12th to complete school education; each anga leads one to the next anga.


The five commandants of yamas

The Yama is the first limb of Ashtanga yoga. Yama or ethical disciplines are of five types:

  1. Ahimsa (non-violence)
  2. Satya (truth)
  3. Asteya (non-stealing)
  4. Brahmacharya (continence) and
  5. Apa­rigraha (non-coveting)



It comprises two words ‘a means not, while he indicates killing or violence, which means love.


‘sat’ literally translates as ‘True essence’ or ‘True nature. Many Sanskrit words use the prefix ‘sat,’ such as ‘Satsang,’ meaning ‘truth company, and sattva,’ meaning ‘pure,’ which leads us to understand that ‘sat’ really means more than ‘truth’; it is unchanged and pure. ‘Sat’ also holds meanings like; ‘Unchangeable,’ which has no distortion beyond distinctions of time, space, person, and reality.


Asteya refers to the virtue of “non-stealing.” The basic idea of Asteya is that a person should neither steal nor have the intention or desire to steal anything belonging to another person.



Celibacy, moderation in all our actions. Bhramcharya doesn’t limit to one step; it should be practised in all aspects of our behaviour. Bhramcharya pratistahyam virya labha- upon establishment of celibacy, power is attained. Behaviour that leads us toward ‘the divine’ or ‘higher power.’ Swami Vivekananda ji said no fruits of Yoga could be achieved without brahmacharya.


Non-hoarding, absence of greed, or the ability to accept only what’s appropriate. Accept only from the righteous; if someone hasn’t accumulated something properly and we get from them, the same qualities will shift into our mind, which isn’t ideal; the mind becomes corrupt.

Yama and Guna

Guna is the three subtle energies in our body; guna is a part of Ayurveda. Ahara plays a vital role in a yogi’s life; through ahara, the three gunas can be balanced. Yoga strives to increase sattva guna in the body. Following yama and niyama calls for the predominance of sattva guna.

Klesa-s impede due to the forceful play of raj and tamas. Thus yogis must stick to sattva food and practice all the angas of Yoga. Rajas and Tamas must refrain from becoming dominant; following yama and niyama religiously helps a lot.

Sattva food is vital in strengthening and sustaining Yoga practices; the proper asana course will help put down raja and tamas guna. Purity in ahara keeps one’s inner and external self pure.


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